Delaware County is a somewhat smaller county surrounding the Philadelphia metropolitan area. The county has a population of over 500,000 residents. The Delaware County Court of Common Pleas holds legal jurisdiction over the county. The court handles all matters of Family Law in its Domestic Relations division. This also includes filing for Protection from Abuse orders, and other resources for victims of abuse. The process for filing relies on a few steps, though it is streamlined so that filing can be done at the court in a simple process. Delaware County also has a process for emergency PFA filings as well, if the court is not in session when a person requires a PFA order.
Domestic Abuse in Delaware County
Domestic abuse or violence is a “catch-all” term for certain types of violent and threatening behavior directed against a household member. Household members include anyone you've had an intimate relationship with, partners and spouses, children, and even roommates. Those with whom you share a biological child are also considered household members.
If you don't have a qualifying domestic relationship, other protective orders may be available depending on the facts.
Domestic Violence Behaviors
Although “violence” or “abuse” implies that all incidents are violent in nature, this is not the case. Domestic abuse can include non-violent acts such as online stalking, harassment, stalking in person, and threatening behavior.
Of course, the abuse can also be more violent in nature, such as:
- Assault, e.g., kicking, punching, pushing
- Aggravated assault, e.g., with a weapon
- Sexual assault
Even the threat of bodily harm can be enough to constitute domestic abuse.
What Happens if Someone Is Arrested for Domestic Violence?
If you're arrested on suspicion of domestic violence or abuse, you won't face charges for domestic violence specifically but instead for a specific criminal act, e.g., assault. As a result, if you're found guilty, you'll face the penalties for that specific crime which will depend on whether it's a misdemeanor or felony. Other factors, such as your existing criminal record, may also influence the sentence. First-time offenders don't normally receive the most severe sentence for a given crime, but again, this depends on the facts.
Upon being arrested for a crime related to domestic violence, you may have the chance to post bail. However, this is not guaranteed and depends on, for example, whether the courts consider you an immediate danger to the victim's safety.
What's important at this stage is that you hire an attorney to protect your interests and understand your options. Call the Lento Law Firm to retain an experienced domestic abuse attorney.
Civil Remedies for Domestic Violence
The main civil remedy for domestic violence or abuse is a protective order known as a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order. This type of restraining order prevents perpetrators from behaving in certain ways towards a person who fears for their safety.
PFAs can be temporary or permanent (final). Temporary PFAs are awarded without hearing the defendant's side of things, and they remain in place for around 10 days until a final hearing date can be set. They can also be issued very quickly on an emergency basis if this is warranted.
If granted, final PFA orders last for up to three years. They can be renewed or extended multiple times, but they can also be canceled or changed if they're no longer required.
How to Get a Protection from Abuse Order in Delaware County
Filing for a Protection from Abuse in Delaware County is a multi-step process.
Petition for a Temporary PFA
First, the court must be petitioned for the order. At this stage, the victim of abuse seeking protection will be known as the "petitioner." If the court is not currently in session and the situation is an emergency, the request for a PFA order will be directed to a District Judge. This PFA order will usually last until the next business day. When filing for an emergency PFA, the petitioner must be available to speak with a judge that same day. Once an emergency PFA is filed, the petitioner must attend court during normal business hours to solidify a temporary PFA order.
Service of a PFA
Once a temporary PFA order is complete, it is advisable to have the police serve it to the defendant.
Final PFA Hearings
The next step in the process is to await a PFA hearing. Even if the emergency and temporary PFA orders are denied by the judge initially, petitioners will still be able to attend a PFA hearing to present their case to a judge. PFA hearings are normally done on Thursdays. The matter will then proceed to a hearing with a judge where both sides may present evidence and testimony to support their case. If the judge rules in the petitioner's favor, a "permanent" or "final" PFA order will be drafted and signed.
Importance of Hiring an Attorney for Final PFA Hearings
PFA hearings in front of a judge will be evidentiary and testimonial in nature. For this reason, it is important to have a lawyer present who can advise the petitioner and help present the case in court. Attorneys can work to help a petitioner's chances of obtaining a PFA in court. PFA hearings allow the alleged abuser/defendant a chance to defend themselves against the petitioner's claims, and they should have a lawyer to support them.
Although a PFA can be filed with relative ease, an attorney, when representing the petitioner, can help turn a temporary PFA into a permanent order at a hearing. When representing the defendant at a PFA hearing, an attorney can have a temporary PFA dismissed or the petitioner's request for a final PFA order denied. Contact the Lento Law Firm to discuss representation at a final PFA order hearing.
Consequences of Domestic Violence Accusations
Every domestic violence accusation, no matter whether it's founded, exaggerated, or false, can result in serious consequences.
- You may be unable to seek or talk to your children while there's a PFA order in place.
- Family and friends may behave differently around someone accused of domestic violence, which strains valued relationships.
- It may not be possible to attend major events such as weddings or funerals while PFAs are active, depending on who else will be there.
- Criminal charges can result in steep financial penalties and jail time.
- You could lose access to your own home – and your belongings – while a PFA order is active.
Criminal and Civil Penalties for Domestic Violence
There are various penalties that may arise from a domestic violence or abuse allegation.
- If someone is charged with a crime of domestic violence, they will face either misdemeanor or felony penalties if convicted.
- Violating a PFA, which is a criminal offense, can result in up to $1,000 in fines and six months in jail for contempt.
- Civil penalties stem from the PFA order itself. For example, the defendant may be required to make child maintenance payments, hand over firearms, or leave the home.
Given how serious DV can be, you need legal representation at the earliest opportunity no matter whether you're the victim or the defendant. Your future is at stake – contact the Lento Law Firm for help today.
Consequences of Domestic Violence Accusations
Domestic violence accusations, even if they turn out to be unfounded, can impact every area of life. Although every case is different, here are some of the ways in which you may be affected by domestic violence or abuse allegations.
Courts can see domestic violence arrests and convictions and PFA orders. As a result, they can impact a custody judgment – domestic violence can make it harder to see your children or gain custody.
PFA violations are criminal offenses and will go on your criminal record. Similarly, domestic violence arrests and convictions will affect your record. Having a criminal record makes it harder to pursue certain employment and personal opportunities.
Sometimes, domestic violence issues can trickle down into divorce settlements. For example, when dividing marital property, the court may decide that it's equitable to give the victim more than the perpetrator, depending on the facts of the case.
Domestic violence convictions – or PFA orders – can impact your ability to join certain professions or retain your current job. For example, since PFAs are public records, if an employer performs a background check, they may see the PFA order. You may also be unable to perform certain duties if they require that you carry weapons, e.g., law enforcement or military service.
In PA, if you're convicted of a felony such as stalking, you will lose your gun rights. If physical force is used or threatened, meaning you're convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, you could also lose your firearms.
Even if there are no criminal charges, a temporary or final PFA order could include an order to hand over firearms. A failure to comply is a criminal offense.
Get Help with Domestic Violence in Delaware County
If you're dealing with a domestic violence issue, the Lento Law Firm wants to help. Attorney Joseph Lento and the Family Law Team understand how challenging these matters can be, and we want to help you achieve the most favorable outcome possible.
If you or a loved one is seeking a PFA order or is engaged in other matters of family law in Delaware County, contact the Lento Law Firm today to discuss the issue. You can reach us online or by telephone at 888.535.3686.